Monday, October 11, 2010

Mercy Ships Celebrates World Mental Health Day

Dr Lyn Westman heads up the program.
 World Mental Health Day, promoted by The World Health Organization (WHO), is designed to raise public awareness about mental health issues. This special day promotes more open discussion of mental disorders, as well as investments in prevention and treatment services. The treatment gap for mental, neurological and substance use disorders is formidable … especially in resource-poor countries.

Mercy Ships is a global charity that operates the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, to deliver world-class health care to some of the world’s poorest countries. The organization has a thriving Mental Health Program that is trying to close the treatment gap by educating people in West Africa.

Mental health is defined as how we think, feel and act as we cope with life. The Mercy Ships Mental Health Program aims to restore hope and bring healing by providing basic counseling skills to health care workers, church leaders, teachers, social workers, corrections officers and many other community leaders. Teaching those skills will increase the availability of mental health resources and address issues of mental illness, epilepsy and trauma.

Dr. Lyn Westman, the Program Administrator, spends most of her time in the field teaching and coaching community leaders in the countries served by Mercy Ships. Mental Health is a problem that is rarely addressed in the developing world. The education provided by Dr. Westman is extremely useful and hard to find locally.

During the Mercy Ships Field Service to Togo, the Mental Health Team conducted a five-day camp for orphans and abused children. Before the camp began, a day of training was held to give an overview of the program to parents, teachers and caregivers.

Under the supervision of Dr. Westman, 31 children, ages 9-15, enjoyed a carefree week on the campus of L'Institution Privee La Prosperite, a Christian school near Lomè. All of the children who participated in the camp were either orphaned, abused, or from single-parent homes.

Working with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and the Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity, the team placed the children into four groups, with three adult supervisors per group. Each day the children had two lessons to complete in addition to songs, games and Bible stories.

To help these traumatized children deal with the difficulties in their lives, the team leaders talked with them about Biblical principles – explaining that all children are special and that God loves them and has a plan for their lives. They all seemed to thrive on the loving attention they were getting.

All of the children were allowed to tell the stories of their lives, which helped them to alleviate stress. The campers were also taught how to protect themselves from abuse and how to set boundaries in their lives.

This particular outreach was funded by one of the Mercy Ships national offices in Europe. When the ship performs its Field Service in Sierra Leone next year, the team will operate a very similar children’s camp.

The kids’ camp was an excellent way for the Mercy Ships Mental Health Program to impact young people who are experiencing unique challenges. In everything they do, the Mental Health team strives to fulfill its mission of improving the availability of mental health resources to positively impact those who have lived through traumatic experiences.

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